KSR @ TIFF: Urbanized, Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, and Pariah at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival

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We just got back from the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most distinguished and massive film festivals on the planet. Amid all the glitz, glamour, and Clooney (that guy is literally everywhere), we caught the world premieres of Gary Hustwit's Urbanized and Nick Broomfield's Sarah Palin: You Betcha! as well as Monday night's Canadian premiere of Pariah, a film by Dee Rees. We are so incredibly proud of these three projects. Here's a lil' recap of the screenings.

Director Gary Hustwit (right) with architects Sir Norman Foster & Oscar Niemeyer
Director Gary Hustwit (right) with architects Sir Norman Foster & Oscar Niemeyer

Playing to a packed house that seated over 1,000 bike lane-loving bodies, Urbanized is an extraordinary achievement by Objectified and Helvetica documentarian Gary Hustwit. Though the Brooklyn-based filmmaker says he just set out to explore and photograph how a highly diverse selection of cities around the world have come to plan, envision, and redefine urbanization, as one Q&A Q-er decreed, the film cannot help but be championed as "a manifesto." Though Urbanized is not an advocacy film, and Hustwit might not describe himself as an activist, his collection of urban imagery and ideas is nothing short of a call to arms. From Enrique Peñalosathe progressive pro-bus Mayor of Bogota, to Oscar Niemeyer, the 104 year-old grandmaster of modern architecture in Brazil, to the violent luxury condo protests of Stuttgart, to the NOLA street artist-cum-urban-planner Candy Chang, Urbanized journeys from the theories of Rem Koolhaas to Alejandro Aravena's Chilean social housing project. Like any skilled architect, Hustwit shows us the awe-inspiring possibilities and realities of our location both from a bird's eye view and the ground floor, seamlessly weaving structures, systems, and ideals from all over the world to capture a global zeitgeist. 

The perfect debut audience, the crowd cheered throughout the film as urban planners, government officials, architects, and other critical thinkers described our needs and their visions of an urbanized world. Audience responses ranged from "the Mayor of Toronto better be in here right now," to "We laughed, we cried, we love this film," to "What is the plan for sharing this film with as many people as possible?" With a growing army of supporters behind him, it's clear DIY distributor Hustwit will not be doing it all himself. Urbanized premieres in NYC 9/20 and LA 9/25. Click here for a complete list of screenings.

Nick Broomfield and his subject, Sarah P.
Nick Broomfield and his subject, Sarah P.

A most defiant troublemaker, odds are you either want to buy filmmaker Nick Broomfield a drink or throw one on his giant boom mic. Funny, fearless, and fair (um…ish), he's just a guy who wants to know more about the most charming hockey mom in America. In Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, Broomfield travels to Wasilla, WA, to talk with Palin's parents, friends, neighbors, colleagues, former employees, mentors, church leaders, supporters, rivals — even the family's "special antler dog," who is supergood at fetching the giant antlers of which Palin's dad has a sky-high stack in his shed. All these visits are of course in addition to Broomfield's repeated attempts to meet with the woman herself (and by attempts we mean he waits on line at her book tour appearances and uses the autographs as opportunities for face time). Interviewing the folks who aren't completely terrified to speak of her on camera, it becomes apparent that the down-home Ms. Palin, though good at making friends, is much better at making frenemies. Broomfield travels all the way to Egypt to interview her one former classmate who is not bound by silence/their shared commitment to the Assembly of God. As the Reverend Howard Bess (whose book Pastor, I Am Gay was one of many Palin had removed from Wasilla's public library) tells us, "Nice lady. Charming. Genuine smile. But," he snaps his fingers, "she'd kill you like that." 

Through all these interviews, Broomfield arrives at a portrait of a fiercely anti-intellectual, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-science, anti-gun control, anti-secular, anti-compromise Palin that is not at all far from the mainstream media's portrayal; however, thanks to loads of archival dating back to the days of teenage basketball and beauty pageants, and a very colorful and extensive collection of jealousies, grievances, and vendettas, beyond the divisiveness of Palin's politics, Broomfield paints a profoundly dark portrait of an adult who very nearly became Vice President of the United States of America without ever leaving high school. The film will be distributed by Freestyle Releasing. Click here to watch the trailer.

'Pariah' star Adepero Oduye
'Pariah' star Adepero Oduye

Oh, what a Christmas it will be! Thanks to Focus Features, Dee Rees' Pariah hits theaters on December 25th. And thanks to Dee Rees and her incredible cast and crew, Pariah is one of the best films of the year. First premiering at the Sundance Film Festival where Pariah DP Bradford Young took home the Excellence in Cinematography Award, the film follows Alike (Ah-lee-kay), a middle-class Brooklynite teen struggling with identity and freedom in a most authentic and moving way. Though Alike's sexual orientation may be the central issue of the film, Rees' story explores the complexity of identity on so many levels. When Alike invites a pretty bi-curious classmate to a gay hip-hop club, she nervously hangs by the couch while her out-of-the-closet best friend dances with several gals at once. Alike winds up having a better time bopping around a house party with a live rock band. As you hear in the pulsing Pariah trailer, one of Alike's poems declares that she is "broken open" but that "breaking is freeing" and that "broken is freedom."

Artfully dramatized in Pariah, being black or being gay or even being a writer —these categories and labels are complicated, fluid, endlessly varied, and evolve both within us and out in the world over time. They are not absolutes and they are always uniquely experienced. And as with all great films, it's the specificity of Alike's journey that makes her story so universal. Producer Nekisa Cooper noted during the Q&A how important it was to the filmmakers to have a lot of different kinds of music in the film. Though that is clearly a conscious choice that speaks to the broader complexity of identity explored on screen, being conscious ain't a bad thing, especially when it comes to creating something real. 

As evidenced by the above TIFF photo, the Pariah cast and crew all looked so damn radiant up against that red velvet curtain, the audience was like a sea of Great Aunts who Rees has never met but all of whom had tears of pride in their eyes. We learned that Oduye came in thinking she'd play an extra, comedic Kim Wayans wondering if she'd ever be taken seriously, and Pernell Walker ready to channel all her South Bronxiness into best friend Laura's pitch-perfect mix of toughness and vulnerability. Huge kudos to Cooper for pushing Rees to write what she knew, and to one mister Spike Lee (whom Rees first met on an internship six years ago!) for bringing the fearless best out of her work. Check out the trailer above and plz plan your X-mas Day accordingly!

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